by Al Maxey

Issue #327 ------- November 30, 2007
Be always displeased at what thou art, if
thou desirest to attain to what thou art not.

St. Augustine {354-430 A.D.}

When the Perfect Comes
Reflective Study of 1 Cor. 13:10

One way to generate some rather lively discussion among biblical students and scholars, if one is so inclined, is to ask them the meaning of the phrase "the perfect" in 1 Cor. 13:10. Within the beautiful "love chapter" of Paul's first preserved epistle to the brethren in Corinth, after declaring that "we know in part and we prophesy in part" [vs. 9], he then states, "but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away." This has led to tremendous speculation and debate over the centuries. What does Paul have in mind when speaking of that which is partial and that which is perfect? Precisely when will the latter "come," and in what sense will the former be "done away"? Thus, not only the identity of these concepts, but the timing of their arrival and departure, become key elements in this theological disputation.

Although there are a great many aspects of this debate that could quite easily occupy the bulk of our attention and quickly become points of distraction, I shall seek to narrow our focus somewhat in this present reflective analysis, endeavoring to focus primarily upon what I personally perceive the authorial intent behind the phrase "the perfect" to be. Needless to say, the view I have come to espouse cannot be termed anything other than a theory -- the fruit of my own personal study and contemplation. Therefore, my view is hardly the "final word" on this passage, and I certainly have no intention of being dogmatic about it. I freely admit the possibility that I could be mistaken. I have altered my views on this text before, and could very well do so again upon further study. At the present, however, my interpretation "makes sense" ... at least to me ... in light of the overall context of the epistle, and also in light of one of the guiding purposes of Paul's ministry. Therefore, I will simply add my voice to the voices of many scholars who have come before me and proffer my own theory alongside theirs for your careful consideration. Perhaps it will at least serve to generate further discussion and reflection.

Although theories abound as to the meaning of "the perfect," most students of the Word tend to favor one of the following two: (1) It refers to the New Testament canon, or (2) it refers to the Parousia -- the second coming of Christ Jesus. There are problems with both views, but, frankly, there are some difficulties with just about every theory out there. This has led some scholars to declare, rather pessimistically, that we may never fully comprehend Paul's intent in this passage. I don't know that I would go that far, but few would disagree with the fact that it is one of the more difficult texts to interpret. Before suggesting my own view, let me share just a few thoughts with respect to these two prominent theories.

The NT Canon

A very popular theory, especially among the more conservative factions within the Churches of Christ, is that "the perfect" has reference to the completion of the 27 books comprising the NT canon. The final documents (the writings of John) would have been completed around the mid-90's A.D. It is at this point, in the view of a great many of those who hold to this theory, that the perfect "comes." Others, however, insist that the perfect did not "appear" until these 27 individual writings were collected together and formed into a cohesive whole, something that would not fully develop until the second and third centuries. Therefore, within this theory regarding the identity of the phrase "the perfect" there are sub-theories regarding the coming of "the perfect." The reason this particular view is so popular with the more conservative elements within our own faith-heritage is because of the attendant belief that coinciding with the appearing of "the perfect" is the departure of "the partial," which is regarded as a reference to the more stunning spiritual gifts (such as tongues). Since the ultra-conservative legalists don't believe in the continuation of such spiritual gifts -- they barely believe in the operation of the Holy Spirit -- this theory provides a wonderful "proof text" to show that when the NT appeared, all such spiritual gifts ceased. They then use this to prove how all Pentecostals are in violation of the Word of God and thus bound straight for hell. Therefore, one will find them vehemently opposing the alternative view that "the perfect" refers to the Parousia of Christ, for the simple reason that this would tend to suggest the continuation of such spectacular spiritual gifts as they oppose throughout this dispensation. Unwilling to tolerate such a view, they will attack this alternative theory with almost unbelievable ferocity. Some believers, not privy to the motivation for such attacks, have been taken aback and caught off guard by the vehemence of their defense of their view.

For example, Dr. Jimmy Allen, a noted Church of Christ leader and teacher, wrote in his Survey of I Corinthians, "Perfect does not refer to Christ" [p. 163]. Such is the view, he states, of those "who maintain that the gifts are now being exercised and will continue until the Lord's second coming" [ibid]. Indeed, his whole discussion of this passage, which continues for a number of pages, is much more concerned with showing the cessation of spiritual gifts than the elaboration of "the perfect." Dr. Allen is not even willing to allow an extension of the "coming" of the NT documents until the later formation of the canon into a unified, accepted whole. That would extend "the gifts" for too long. He writes, "When Revelation, the last New Testament book, was finished about 95 A.D., the canon was completed and the whole existed. This does not mean all New Testament books had to be placed into one volume before gifts were done away. It does mean gifts ceased by the time Revelation was written" [p. 165-166]. Getting those pesky gifts terminated, and the sooner the better, is critical for those who oppose the personal indwelling and direct operation of the Holy Spirit in the lives of God's people today.

T. R. Applebury, who at the time he wrote his commentary on this epistle to the Corinthian brethren was professor of New Testament at Pacific Christian College in Long Beach, California, agreed fully with Dr. Jimmy Allen. "There is no reference to the coming of Christ in this context" [p. 243], he boldly declared. "Therefore, when the completed revelation -- the Bible -- came, the things that were in part were abolished" [ibid]. Thus, "the church could look to the time when it was to have the completed revelation of the Word and put away the transitory spiritual gifts" [ibid]. The Expositor's Bible Commentary admits that such a view is attractive in providing a "proof text" against such modern "revelations" as The Book of Mormon and Science and Health. "Nevertheless, it is difficult to prove the cessation of these spiritual gifts at the end of the first century A.D. by taking teleion to refer to a completion of the canon at that time, since that idea is completely extraneous to the context" [vol. 10, p. 269]. I would have to agree with this position. I find absolutely nothing within the text or the context that even remotely suggests that Paul had the completed New Covenant canon in view when he spoke of "the perfect" in 1 Corinthians 13:10. Thus, I reject this particular theory as an imposition upon the text, rather than an exposition of the text. There are, of course, other considerations both for and against this theory (some quite technical in nature), but I will leave that for the reader to pursue on his/her own, as the intent of this current Reflections is to suggest a third possibility, rather than commend or condemn in great depth the two dominant theories.

The Parousia

The far more popular view among biblical scholars throughout Christendom is that "the perfect" has reference to the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ -- the long-awaited Parousia. "In a number of contexts the related words telos ('end,' 'termination') and teleo ('bring to an end') are used in relation to the second coming of Christ. Since in the contexts of the second coming these related words are used and since Paul himself used telos in talking about the second coming elsewhere in 1 Corinthians (1:8; 15:24), it seems more normal to understand teleion in verse 10 to mean that 'perfection' is to come about at the second coming" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 269]. Few would question that forms of the word used by Paul in 1 Cor. 13:10 are indeed used with reference to "the end" when our Lord comes again. However, there is also no disputing the fact that this term, in its various forms, is used far more frequently with an altogether different "end" in view than the return of Christ. Nevertheless, there is clearly far more to commend this theory than the previous one which suggests "the perfect" is the completed written Word of God. Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, in his classic work The Expositor's Greek Testament, declares his belief that "the perfect," of which Paul speaks, "is brought about at the Parousia -- it 'comes' with the Lord from heaven" [vol. 2, p. 900]. I tend to agree with Prof. Applebury, however, that the return of the Lord is a teaching utterly foreign to the context of 1 Cor. 13. It is not even hinted at. Although Paul certainly deals with this truth elsewhere in his writings, I do not believe he does so here. I am convinced that this second theory also is an imposition upon the text, rather than a true exegesis and/or exposition of it.

The Mature View

The Greek word employed by the apostle Paul in this particular phrase [1 Cor. 13:10], the one that is generally rendered by the English word "perfect" in most of our translations, is teleios. As previously noted, this may indeed refer to "an end; a final act." It may also refer to that which is "brought to completion." Thus, the idea of completeness and wholeness is conveyed by this word at times. One of the major meanings of this term, however, and it is frequently translated this way in Scripture, is "maturity; full grown." I appreciate the fact that Dr. Jimmy Allen, in his above mentioned commentary, declared that "all authorities" he had consulted in his study "indicate the word can mean mature or full grown" [p. 165]. This fact is often completely overlooked in one's effort to interpret 1 Cor. 13:10, and, in my view, that is a rather significant failing. After a considerable amount of careful, prayerful study and reflection on this passage, I have come to the conclusion (and the conviction) that Paul, when using the phrase "the perfect," is speaking of a state of spiritual maturity. I believe this fits not only the immediate and remote contexts, but also is completely consistent with Paul's stated mission for his ministry. "Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily" [Col. 1:28-29, NKJV]. This, by the way, is the very same Greek word that appears in 1 Cor. 13:10. Paul's goal in his ministry is to present his converts, and indeed all disciples of Christ, to the Lord in a state of spiritual maturity.

Throughout the writings (and the ministry) of the apostle Paul, he seeks to instill spiritual growth and development in the lives of his fellow Christians. He does not desire for them to remain "babes," but rather to "grow up" and "mature" in Christ. In the very next chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthian brethren, Paul writes, "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking, ... but in your thinking be mature" [1 Cor. 14:20]. Again, this is the very same Greek word. Thus, contextually, Paul is clearly seeking to mature the brethren in Corinth, desiring for them to get beyond that which is incomplete or partial, thus allowing maturity to "come" into their lives. When that took place, the foundational gifts and principles upon which they were placing so much importance would become less so, giving way to the fuller expressions of LOVE in their daily walk. "When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things" [1 Cor. 13:11]. Clearly, Paul is giving an illustration of what it means to move beyond the incompleteness of immaturity and to realize the fullness and completeness of maturity in Christ Jesus -- something desperately needed in the lives of the brethren in Corinth!! "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly -- mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready" [1 Cor. 3:1-2]. The brethren in Corinth needed for "the perfect" to come!! They needed to move beyond childhood and progress to manhood (spiritual maturity).

"Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so" [Heb. 6:1-3]. As long as people dwell in the realm of the partial, completeness eludes them. However, when we build upon the foundation, in time completeness comes. The mission of Paul in his daily ministry for Christ Jesus was to bring the disciples of Christ to a state of maturity, so that one day, as he stood before the Judge, he could present to Him these converts as mature men (and women). At the time that Paul penned 1 Corinthians, the church there was very young; the congregation had only been established about three years before. They were babes; maturity had not yet come ... and this fact was visible in almost every area of their interpersonal relationships (as the epistle reflects). When "the perfect" came, however, the childish pursuits would be left behind, and they would behave as mature adults in the Lord. This was the goal for which the apostle Paul labored ... and prayed [as did Epaphras -- Col. 4:12]. Not only for Corinth, but for all those with whom he had influence. James, the brother of our Lord, also desired his brethren to be "perfect (same word) and complete" [James 1:4], something that would come as they grew through various trials and afflictions.

The goal of the Body of Christ is to grow up, "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature (same word) man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we're no longer to be children ... we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ" [Eph. 4:13-15]. I believe Dr. Jimmy Allen is correct in seeing this passage as commentary on the 1 Cor. 13:10 passage, although I greatly differ with his conclusion that the NT writings are the "end" in view. Rather, I believe the goal in view in both is the maturing of the Body of Christ. Leaving that which is incomplete and moving to completeness; leaving the partial and embracing wholeness; leaving childhood and welcoming the coming of adulthood/maturity. I like the way the New English Bible renders 1 Cor. 13:10 -- "the partial vanishes when wholeness comes." The Holman Bible Dictionary states, "Christians are to grow from spiritual infancy unto maturity so as to share the full stature of Christ Jesus, in whose image they may become renewed and perfected -- Col. 3:10" [p. 1094]. "Perfection is understood in terms of maturity, defined as living and growing in the power of the cross and resurrection of Christ. Producing this maturity is the goal of Paul's apostolic ministry" [Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1028].

By the way, this was the meaning of this particular Greek term in ancient secular usage. Dr. Kenneth Wuest, in his monumental work Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, wrote, "In the pagan Greek mystery religions, the word referred to those devotees who were fully instructed as opposed to those who were novices" [vol. 3, Treasures from the Greek NT, "The Meaning of 'Perfect' in the New Testament," p. 114]. "It might be well to note that the phrase 'babes in Christ' as Paul uses it in the Greek, does not mean 'young converts,' but Christians who have not attained to a mature Christian experience. It is a truly sad thing to see one who has been a Christian for many years and who is still a babe in Christ -- immature. The apostle Paul makes it quite clear that he is speaking of maturity and immaturity in spiritual things" [ibid, p. 115]. Gerhard Kittel, in his renowned Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, makes this insightful observation, "The mature are those who understand the message of the cross, namely, as the wisdom of God, and who embrace it in faith. ... Concerning tongues the judgment of those addressed is compared to the immature thinking and imagining of a child and the judgment of mature Christians is set in contrast to it" [vol. 8, p. 76]. Both of these respected Greek scholars, in other words, see the teaching of Paul in this passage as a contrast between spiritual infancy and maturity. The coming of "the perfect," then, is the coming of spiritual maturity to those who, at present, were still sucking a bottle of warm milk (figuratively speaking). Certainly, this was the goal Paul sought for the saints in Corinth at the time he wrote 1 Corinthians -- to move beyond the squabbling over foundational matters and to move on to that maturity which evidences itself in love for one another (the very focus of 1 Cor. 13).

"The Pauline epistles use the word teleios several times in the specific sense of 'mature.' ... Love is what binds the community together into the unity of the body of Christ, producing the complete wholeness and maturity that is the clear goal of Christ's body" [International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, p. 765]. "The disciplined and experienced Christian is teleios. ... The maturity of the Christian character is evidenced by the complete and harmonious development of the moral virtues and spiritual graces. ... Love, then, is the best definition of Christian perfection" [Dr. James Hastings, Dictionary of the Apostolic Church, vol. 2, p. 166]. Clearly, the babes in Corinth needed to have maturity "come" upon them, and to have the partial vanish away. Dr. C. K. Barrett, a professor at the University of Durham, wrote, "Paul is hinting that it was childishness that led the Corinthians to overvalue tongues and to undervalue love" [A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 306]. "The half-informed and the immature in character are sometimes puffed up with conceit and pride; whilst humility often comes with a much higher wisdom and riper experience. The Corinthians were crude and unformed ... they were puffed up with spiritual pride. Hence this language" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 446].


When the Lord Jesus prayed for His disciples on the night of His arrest, He prayed that they/we might all be brought to perfection, to completeness and maturity, and this would be displayed in our unity and oneness [John 17:23]. I believe it is possible for "the perfect" to "come" ... but it will only come when we grow beyond the squabbling of spiritually immature siblings to the loving maturity of Spirit-filled saints. The Corinthians were obsessed with certain spiritual gifts, not realizing that something far greater awaited them: Love. In 1 Cor. 13 Paul showed them "a more excellent way" [1 Cor. 12:31]. Yes, spiritual gifts had their place (and still do), but we are to "pursue love!" [1 Cor. 14:1]. It is this that will lead to our maturity; the former was only leading them down the road to prideful partyism. They were behaving as mere children; it was time for maturity to come. Dear brethren, that exact same message is just as desperately needed today! It's time to put aside the factious fragmentation of the Body of Christ; it's time to come together in love as One Family; it's time to forever lay aside childish things and let maturity come. Are we willing? Are you willing? If so, then let the journey forward begin!!

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Readers' Reflections

New Book by Fred Peatross --- A friend, fellow author, and faithful Reflections supporter by the name of Fred Peatross has a new book out, and I'm happy to recommend it. The title is: Missio Dei: In the Crisis of Christianity. It can be purchased on The following review comes from Dr. John York, a noted Professor of Bible and Preaching at Lipscomb University: "In a cultural environment increasingly cynical about Christianity in general and consumer church in particular, Fred Peatross invites us to 'come and see' a Christ who has left the (church) building to lovingly touch the world -- one conversation at a time -- on this journey we humans call life. Rather than evangelism being a 'program' of the church, sharing the Gospel becomes a way of being in the world. This is good news indeed." I think you will find his approach to being the church quite in harmony with what I have been trying to teach and preach for many years [see: Reflections #323 -- Being the Church: Reflecting on Identity]. --- Al Maxey

From a Reader in Ontario, Canada:

Hello Brother Maxey, I have read and re-read your book Down, But Not Out. Thank you!! It is probably the most loving book I have ever read on the topic of divorce and remarriage. It was an inspirational and challenging study. I appreciate all the time and effort that you put into this most important subject. In your book you come across as one who is sincerely interested in coming to know the Truth, and in that process letting the chips fall where they may. On there's a book that we all need to read yesterday. It is by a former Church of Christ minister from Australia by the name of Greg Deuble. Greg's book is: They Never Told Me This In Church: A Call to Read the Bible with New Eyes. You will appreciate the forthrightness and honest way he presents the Truth according to the Scriptures. Your way of communicating reminds me of the way he puts his points across: no nonsense and straight to the point. His book is a real eye-opener, and I recommend it to you as my way of saying Thank You for your teaching on divorce and remarriage.

From a Reader in Alaska:

Brother Al, I would appreciate a copy of Marion Owens' essay. Maybe it will be useful to me as I struggle with legalism issues here. Al, I have been a subscriber to your Reflections for about a year, and it is with great anticipation that I await each new Reflections article. I don't know how you can maintain your optimism when dealing with such persistent negativism from those who oppose you, and yet I surely do appreciate your efforts, as do many others with whom I share your articles. Also, our preacher, who is very familiar with your writings, recently taught a class here on marriage and divorce, using your book Down, But Not Out as the guide for the study. God bless you, Al.

From a New Reader in Kentucky:

Brother Maxey, Someone forwarded me an article you had written on Daniel Sommer -- Reflections #213. I really enjoyed it. Would you please send me all four copies of your Reflections on CD, as well as your Maxey Debates CD. A check is enclosed. I look forward to getting them. I really enjoyed reading some of your stuff on the Internet many years ago, and I'm glad to see that you are still around.

From a Reader in NSW, Australia:

Dear Brother Al, Just a brief note to again say thank you for all the effort and research you undertake to bring us the challenging messages each week. I also want to take the opportunity to wish you and Shelly all the very best for Christmas and the year 2008. I have enclosed a scenic 2008 calendar from Australia as a visible reminder that you and your ministry are prayed for daily down here. Brother Al, you continue to be a very insightful teacher and preacher, and I value the sermons you have so kindly sent to me. I hope to catch up with you one day and be able to thank you in person. In fact, I tried to arrange to go to the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop next year via Alamogordo, NM ... but discovered that it was not practical. However, if you are going to be at Tulsa '08, then I hope and pray we can meet. Thank you again, brother, for sending us your weekly Reflections. I still share them with others at every opportunity. I've never read one that I disagree with, but that is not to say that there have not been times when my personal views were seriously challenged. Please continue producing these Reflections as long as you can, and I will covenant with you to continue praying for you and Shelly as long as I live.

From an Elder in Iowa:

Brother Al, Thank you for your work each week putting these Reflections together. I enjoy reading them. They make me stop and think about the many different issues with which we in our fellowship struggle. Thank you for challenging our many traditions! You know, one of the things I really enjoy about your Reflections is the "Readers' Response" section you attach to your article each week, and all of their discussion of some of the conclusions you have come to in previous articles. I personally take great hope from hearing the thinking of this host of people who are moving away from our traditions and toward the freedom that Christ wants us to have. Although I have read several books that indicate some in our fellowship are questioning our past conclusions, nevertheless seeing the many responses to your Reflections from across the brotherhood gives me the greatest encouragement. Thank you so much for the weekly insights you provide! Keep up the good work!

From a Reader in Missouri:

Brother Al, You are a breath of fresh air! I am grateful to hear a voice of reason; one more concerned about matters of the heart than rigid legalism. I think many people are simply afraid to acknowledge the Holy Spirit for fear of being labeled too "charismatic." I believe this is changing, however, at least in my congregation, and I am grateful for that. I believe we have become somewhat ritualistic in the way we perform baptisms and share in the Lord's Supper, so we become anxious or afraid that we might say the wrong thing or mess up some detail. In the past, I can personally remember, when presiding over the Lord's Table, being afraid that I might pray for the juice and pass it before the bread, or some other infraction. Fortunately, my church family here understands there are far more important things to focus on than this!

From a Reader in Louisiana:

Bro. Al, Once again I have found your article enlightening and to the point. Your articles are always very well-stated, well-documented, and thought-provoking. I share your passion for the grace of God, having grown up in a very conservative Church of Christ. Actually, I have written you in the past when I was struggling with leaving this religious group. At the present I am no longer affiliated with the Churches of Christ, and my parents, although we are still on speaking terms, firmly believe that my family and I are lost. While their feelings continue to weigh on my mind, I do rejoice in the love and newly discovered freedom in Christ Jesus. It is so refreshing to emphasize God's grace and love, instead of living in fear of failing to obey Law perfectly and in judgmentalism of all others not in our group. Thanks for your work, Al, and may God bless you and your family.

From a Reader in Indiana:

Dear Brother Maxey, I would like to request a copy of the essay by Marion Owens you offered to send us. My family's background for several generations is that of the legalistic Churches of Christ. Seven years ago I had had enough of the friction and fighting, and so my wife, children and I were blessed to find a very warm and open Christian Church in which to worship. It has truly been a path from the yoke of legalism into marvelous grace. I am very interested in reading about Bro. Owens' journey. Thanks so much for your Reflections. They are both informative and uplifting.

From a One Cup Reader in Nevada:

Dear Brother Al, I thank God and praise Him that He has given us a brotherhood wherein we can find love, peace, knowledge, etc. from one another. I thank Him especially for you because of your willingness to guide and teach us the way you do. However, you have made a sinner of me in another way -- I envy you (tongue in cheek) all your knowledge, as well as your ability to share that knowledge with others. I genuinely hope and pray that you and Shelly will be able to be here with us in Las Vegas this coming February for the gathering of One Cup brethren from across the country. We are looking forward to meeting you!

From a One Cup Minister in California:

Bro. Al, I am so glad that you have stayed within the Churches of Christ. If you left, who would remain to help others find the Way?! If everyone who disagreed with the practices of our group left, who would help those left behind find liberty, grace and the love of Christ? Thank you for staying, Bro. Maxey; thank you for shining a light in the darkness; thank you for enlightening me personally!! By the way, I liked the "mute monkey" remark you made in your last article. I got your point, which was very well-made: our faith, our salvation, is not dependent upon the words uttered by the baptizer. Rather, our faith/salvation is totally dependent upon what Jesus Christ has done for us and our response to and relationship with Him.

From a Reader in Colorado:

Bro. Al, Please send me the paper written by Marion Owens that you mentioned in your last issue of Reflections. I am always interested in others' insights into the transition from legalism to liberty, and wonder how their journey might parallel my own quest (which is still evolving) for understanding and peace of mind.

From a Reader in Oregon:

Brother Al, I would be interested in the essay by Bro. Owens. It's great to see how others have studied themselves out of bondage, and to compare their journey with my own.

From a Reader in Italy:

Dear Brother Maxey, I would like to receive the Response to the Charges of "Liberalism" by the brother in the Philippines and the article by Marion Owens: Church of Christ Doctrines: Facts and Assumptions. Thanks!

From a Reader in Florida:

Brother Al, Thanks so much for emailing to me the document by Marion Owens. I have read and printed it, have benefited by it, and plan to pass it on to others! I certainly agree with your statement: "This will not only challenge you, but motivate you."

From a D.Min. in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Would you please send me the essay by Marion Owens. I am very interested in what our brother has to say. It seems to me that there is a resurgence in folks wanting to get back to the Bible and away from tradition, and that is very good. There are many who claim to be "back to the Bible" restorationists, but who still hold to the restrictive nature of tradition. May God and His Holy Spirit help us all to see the difference.

From a U.S. Navy Officer in Japan:

Dear Brother Al, The editor of Contending for the Faith wrote you, "I seriously doubt that you could be taught much of anything. I wish things were otherwise with you, but they are not." Is this guy for real?!! If there is anybody I know who is open to learning, it is you, Al. In my own studies I have had to let go of all my preconceptions ... you have helped teach me that, just through your writings! I find it amazing that such people claim to have no hatred, but then lob such insults. As you well know, there are thousands who disagree with Mr. Brown's assessment of you ... none more so than myself. On a lighter note, your article reminded me of my daughter's baptism, who was eight at the time. When the pastor went to immerse her, she grabbed the side of the baptistery and would not go under for anything! Twice he tried to dunk her, and twice she grabbed on and held tight. I was standing right there on the side trying hard not to laugh. With encouragement from the ever patient preacher and myself, she finally allowed herself to be dunked on the third try. Bro. Al, I know you are used to people like David Brown who say such awful things about you, but I know it must be wearying. Just keep on keeping on, brother. Fight the good fight. You remain in my daily prayers.

From a Reader in Texas:

Bro. Al, I just wanted to share a recent baptism story. A good friend of mine recently decided that when her son was baptized that she and her husband would baptize him. They reasoned that she birthed him into this world and she should also be a part of his birth into Christ. It was awesome to watch, and what a novel idea that I, as a mother, could physically participate in the baptism of my children. No one has ever told me that I couldn't, but being the "good Church of Christ girl" that I am, the thought just hadn't occurred to me! But, when I think about it, it makes perfect sense that the people who led this child to Christ (his parents) should be able to participate in his baptism. What more precious thing can a mom experience with her child (the same for the husband)? This may not be a novel thought to everyone out there, but it was new to me, so I thought I'd share it with you. Thanks for all your insights each week in your Reflections. Keep up the good work!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Bro. Al, Someone called me not long ago and was concerned because the preacher at "her church" did not say anything when he was baptizing a "candidate." She asked me what I thought about this. My answer was that I did not have to say anything as long as the person who was being baptized understood why they were being baptized. I usually do say to the person I am baptizing (without holding up my right hand or closing my eyes and bowing my head), "I am baptizing you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for the remission of your sins." I do that for the sake of "the unlearned" who may be in the audience. The rest of this story is that her preacher happens to be a good friend and brother, so I called and told him what she had said. He said that he did say something, but that the audio people forgot to turn on the microphone. It is a large building with probably 1400 people present. She obviously had just not heard him.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Bro. Al, Your most recent Reflections reminded me of an incident that occurred years ago in Oklahoma. A man came forward to be baptized one Sunday morning. Because he had been led to this point by one of our deacons, I had the deacon baptize this new believer. It would be a vast understatement to say that our deacon was excited! When they got into the baptistery, the deacon loudly proclaimed, "I baptize you in the name of Jesus and God for the remission of your sins," then he splashed him into the water. The believer was immersed, and those of us standing within 15 feet of the baptistery got soaked. What a great, joyous morning it was! But then, that afternoon, one of our men called to tell me that this new brother needed to be baptized again. He was not "scripturally baptized" because he was not immersed by a minister and because the "right words" were not said. I told this critic that it mattered not who baptized an individual. And then with the flippancy and irreverence of a 25 year old man, I told him that as long as the believer was responding in faith to Jesus, our deacon could have said, "Ho-dee-Ho, Under you Go!" and it would have been a "scriptural baptism." Needless to say, that critic found a new church the next Sunday, and the new brother got involved in the life of our congregation! Praise God!

From a Minister in California:

Dear Brother Al, As always, you had a very interesting article (right down to the question from the Ph.D. from Cambridge!!). Many years ago, when I first started preaching at a very small congregation in rural northern Alabama, on a very cold winter night, a young girl wanted to be baptized. Because the water had not been heated, I told her I would say all I had to say before we went into the water so we would not be in that extremely cold water any longer than necessary. I took her confession and I said my prayer over her, and then we had the fastest baptism of my preaching career! Well, wouldn't you know that a man in the church pitched a fit because I didn't take her confession and pray over her in the baptistery!! He started a campaign to have me removed as their minister, even taking his argument all over the area. Fortunately, we had elders who didn't bow to this man's vicious threats, and within about two weeks he left to go spread his theology of hatred in another congregation. I saw him a time or two over the following years and he had nothing but hatred toward me. Amazing.

From a Minister in Florida:

Dear Bro. Al, I read your latest article and it brought back memories of one of the first criticisms I received as a young man. I had just begun preaching, and I "did not say the right thing" before I plunged a man under the water. Consequently, I asked just what "specific formula" was to be spoken. My critic was not sure exactly what should be said, but he was sure that I had not said it. My study of this subject has led me to the same conclusion you so ably brought out in your article. Not only are there no specific words that must be spoken, it is not required that anything be said. Furthermore, the baptizer does not have to be a "Church of Christ preacher." In fact, I do not believe the baptizer even has to be a Christian (think about it -- who performed the very first baptism?). The heart of the person being baptized is where the focus should be. It's amazing how many "requirements" the legalists can come up with! I have even heard the use of a "baptistery" debated. I knew a man who insisted that baptism must occur in "running water." When I asked if the water had to run upstream or downstream, he suddenly had nothing else to say!!

From a Reader in Alabama:

Bro. Al, Back around 1970 I was a camper at Yosemite Bible Camp, where baptisms were routinely performed in the camp swimming pool at the top of the hill. I remember a boy in my cabin being baptized there one evening, but the next morning there was a bit of controversy over the Trinity not being fully enunciated during the ceremony. It was decided to dunk him again just to be certain, and I was asked to go along as one of two witnesses. The rebaptism went just fine, and I can still remember that boy's first words when he came up -- "Do you think it would be alright for me to swim a couple of laps?!"

From a Reader in California:

Bro. Al, With regard to the words that are uttered at baptisms, we had a bit of a dilemma a few years ago. A dear young lady, whose husband was just baptized into Christ a few moments prior, was getting ready for her baptism. Unfortunately for her, she had nearly drowned as a child, and the thought of having her head completely submerged absolutely terrified her. She had never gone swimming since, and only took showers. We tried several times to immerse her in the traditional fashion (face up, back going down into the water), but it just wasn't happening. This dear young woman was sobbing because she wanted with all of her heart to be immersed for the forgiveness of her sins, but just couldn't bring herself to take the plunge. What we eventually did would probably send the legalists into a tizzy. She was baptized face forward. The idea of putting her face in the water first was much more acceptable to her than having the water flood over her while being leaned back. I'm sure the legalists would not count her baptism as valid, because I'm sure they would try to find some "rationale" that being immersed the "traditional" way is the way Jesus did it.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, You began Reflections #200 with the following paragraph: "I think it is only fitting that Issue #200 of these Reflections is being sent out on our 32nd wedding anniversary! On July 21, 1973 Shelly and I exchanged our marriage vows in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Over three decades later, after having served the Lord in many locations, both here and abroad, we find ourselves back in the Land of Enchantment, just 200 miles south of where our journey together began! If not for the grace of God, the raising and prayers of devoted Christian parents, and the love and strength of a noble wife, who loved me in spite of myself, I would not be here today. My Reflections ministry was born largely through the encouragement of Shelly, who felt I had something worthwhile to offer, and urged me to step out confidently in faith regardless of the personal consequences. The response to these writings is beyond anything I could have imagined, and I am thankful to God for blessing me with a woman who never stopped believing in me, and who urged me to keep on keeping on, even when under fire from friend and foe alike. Without her, and without Him, there never would have been an Issue #1, much less an Issue #200. And to you, the readers, my heartfelt thanks for your support of this ministry. Through you this message of God's grace is being shared with thousands of people throughout the world. Only eternity will reveal the hearts that have been touched and the lives that have been changed through your participation in this effort." Obviously, your wife is a very astute woman, and you are very fortunate! God really does know what we need in order to do His work, and He prepares it for us in advance, even before we ourselves know of it. Brother Al, please continue this ministry!!

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